Caroline Brand | Girl meets world
A Brand You can Trust | What a summer in the “real world” taught me about life at Penn
September 2, 2013, 5:29 pm · Updated September 2, 2013, 9:47 pm·
A Brand You Can Trust
I breathe too loudly — or so I’ve been told.
I’m back from my stint with the proverbial real world — a summer internship at a consulting firm in New York City — and I’m feeling more self-aware than ever.
After spending the past three years convincing myself that I’m an adult (why yes, I do like French wines and prom is just so 2010), it took only a few weeks in the Financial District to realize that I’m closer to the cradle than the C-suite.
Arriving at my internship on the first day, I felt confident and important. Career Services taught me exactly what to wear, and my prior coursework made the intellectual component feel manageable.
But sitting at my welcome lunch on the first day, surrounded by seasoned consultants, I felt as if I were naked on stage, like in that cliche nightmare we’ve all had too many times. I quickly deemed all of my go-to conversation topics childish or inappropriate and floundered around in an attempt to sound witty and intelligent and anything but 20.
When we returned to our workspace after lunch — we all sat around a big conference table together — I quickly realized that the piercing silence of the quietest corners of Van Pelt is like a rock concert compared to our conference room. My vibrating cell phone and stress-induced sighs sounded like New York at rush hour compared to my colleagues, who had mastered the art of typing, speaking and eating at practically zero decibels.
The next few days were a struggle — transitioning from a loud college student to a perfectly postured professional was tough. Suddenly details that I had never noticed in the past about myself, such as the verboten act of knuckle cracking, and about my work, like the difference between Pantone green 153 and 155, became critically important.
College is an odd time because we’re straddling the bridge between childhood and the professional world. Many of us sleep until noon, have our bills paid by someone else and dictate our own schedules.
While we all theoretically understand that there are major differences between life in the Penn bubble and life in the so-called real world. We can conceptualize waking up early, wearing a suit and taking on tasks that have an importance beyond just a letter grade. But in practice, these differences oftentimes turn out to be more jarring than we expected.
Several of my friends interning in finance cited adapting to life on someone else’s schedule as the toughest adjustment. Late at night, when we’re too tired to stay at Van Pelt, we have the freedom to simply get up and leave.
In the real world, despite pressing personal commitments or sheer exhaustion, walking away from our desks whenever we please is simply not an option. Many of my classmates considered leaving work before 10 p.m. a rare gift.
Although Penn is held as a highly pre-professional school, it became evident to me this summer that this reputation refers almost entirely to our coursework.
Even if you are fully prepared to write the perfect brief, balance a financial model or market any product, the arsenal of tools you need to survive — and thrive — as a professional are likely underdeveloped.
Even if this isn’t the case for you, it’s likely that some other facet of adult life — such as navigating the car leasing process or buying pots at Williams-Sonoma — will leave you feeling more collegiate than sophisticated.
But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Whereas we could benefit from spending our college years wading into adulthood, it is tempting to remain blissfully ignorant about the personal and professional battles we’ll be fighting soon after graduation.
Maybe we’ll be told that we breathe too loudly, that the sound we make when we swallow is irritating (said to one of my friends by her manager) or that “its time to get a big-girl bag and learn to do your makeup correctly” (said to my boss at her first job). But I’d rather face a steep learning curve after graduation than be forced into adulthood prematurely.
Sit in the Huntsman silent study lounge for a few hours — it will make you feel intense. You can practice chewing quietly and (sweatpants aside) develop your boardroom persona. But after a few hours, step outside onto Locust Walk and be thankful that we still have syllabi to guide us, because real life certainly does not come with one.
Caroline Brand is a College senior from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. You can email her at email@example.com or follow her at @CBrand19. “A Brand You Can Trust” usually appears every other Tuesday.